A tentative, non-class settlement has been reached between the NHL and nearly 320 former players in a concussion lawsuit, extending medical coverage and establishing an emergency “common good” fund after more than four years of contentious litigation over the league’s culpability concerning the risks and dangers of head trauma.
“I’m very pleased that we could accomplish something for the betterment of the players and the betterment of the game,” plaintiff lawyer Charles Zimmerman told SI.com on Monday morning. “That was our goal and I think we achieved our goal.”
Executed six days ago and then embargoed until parties received notice, the 56-page settlement only applies to 146 ex-players who filed as plaintiffs in the lawsuit, plus 172 others who retained counsel. Participation is voluntary, leaving open the possibility that some of those players could separately pursue personal injury claims. Those who accept, however, will receive the following:
• Neuropsychological testing funded by the NHL, including transportation to medical facilities. (Players who wish to receive testing will have two years.
• Up to $75,000 in medical treatment expenses for each person who tests positive on two or more of 13 cognitive/behavorial assessment exams, conducted by members of the Sports Neuropsychological Society.
• Total cash payments of $6.996 million, broken down to $22,000 per individual.
• Waived attorney fees ($6.95 million total).
In addition, more than $2.5 million will be deposited into the “common good” fund, which will be available to all ex-players—not just those who sued or retained counsel. Paid out incrementally over the next five years, this amount will be diverted toward programs such as senior player pension, emergency assistance, substance abuse, “or similar endeavor(s) to benefit the health and welfare of retired players of the NHL,” the agreement said.
According to a copy of the agreement, the NHL’s total payment cannot exceed $18,922,000. The league also retains “walkaway rights” if not enough former players accept, but such clauses are standard for major settlements like this, according to Zimmerman. “We’re pretty sure that they want the settlement as much as we do,” he said of the NHL.
The very first lawsuit was filed in Nov. 2013 in the District of Columbia, but seven others followed over the ensuing year. By the end, more than two dozen separate cases had been brought against the NHL, spanning courts in Minnesota, California, Illinois and New York. This July, a U.S. district judge recently denied a class-action motion that would’ve allowed every living ex-NHL player to join the suit.
This agreement comes after several rounds of court-ordered mediation that Zimmerman described as a “slugfest,” sessions sometimes stretching over multiple days. The list of 146 existing plaintiffs includes notable names such as Bernie Nicholls, ex-enforcer Mike Peluso, Penguins special assignment scout Kevin Stevens, and Daniel Carcillo, who won two Stanley Cups in Chicago and currently runs the Chapter 5 foundation to help struggling ex-players. The estates of Steve Montador, Jeff Parker and Larry Zeidel, all of whom were posthumously diagnosed with chronic traumatic encephalopathy, also known as CTE, were also included.
Hours before commissioner Gary Bettman will be enshrined as part of the Hockey Hall of Fame class of 2018, the NHL declined to “acknowledge any liability for any of the Plaintiffs’ claims in these cases,” according to a statement. “However, the parties agree that the settlement is a fair and reasonable resolution and that it is in the parties' respective best interests to receive the benefits of the settlement and to avoid the burden, risk and expense of further litigation.”
According to Zimmerman, early reactions from ex-players “have been quite favorable … Testing and treatment is really important for health and for safety and for quality of life,” he continued. “We’ve achieved that. You can make the argument that a big check is more exciting, but I think this is better for the long-term health and welfare of the players and their families.”